Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Attack of the Army Ants, Part I: Initial Invasion

Did I ever mention that back in July my house was invaded by ants? And not just any ants—army ants. I guess I was trying to block it out.

It started late at night. I was texting Colii and I heard all this rustling in my bedroom, much more than the normal lizards and birds and mice crawling around. When I turned on the flashlight I saw hundreds of ants in a thick trail crawling down my wall and under my bed. Also huge ants were dropping from the roof into my room, which is when I started really freaking out (I was so naïve back then). I bolted out of my mosquito net, grabbed a can of Doom bug spray and sprayed a ton of it around my bed. Then I picked a few ants out of my hair(!), crawled back into my mosquito net and prayed. At that point, I just knew that ants were in my house. I figured they might be going after my food, but most of it is in Ziploc bags anyway, so I wasn’t too worried. I actually tried to go to sleep after that (see, ignorance really is bliss).

The next morning when I woke up, the ants had left my room. However, they had just relocated to two other rooms in my house. More terror and Doom spraying ensued. Then I heard someone knocking at my gate, and when I went to answer it, I felt something painful on my foot. And then another. When I looked down, I saw I was standing in a trail of the ants. Many expletives were said as I jumped back and tried to knock them off my feet. (They are tenacious. They grab ahold of skin and just won’t let go. And it really hurts.)

It was my landlord at the gate, and as soon as he saw them, he recognized them and prescribed fire. He starting setting fire to all the ant trails that were visible, and created fires over all their little holes in the ground. It caused most of the ants to move away. (And burned up a good chunk of my garden. Oh well.)

Here is a photo of the ants in my garden. Sorry the photos aren’t very good, but it was hard to stay in one place for more than a few seconds because they kept biting me. And as I said, it really hurt.

This photo shows these bigger ants that seem to travel alongside the thick trail of the army ants. I'm not sure if they are queens or what. These were the ones that were dropping from the ceiling onto my bedroom.

For the next two days my neighbors and I continued battling the ants with fire and bug spray and an insecticide powder I bought in the market. After all that my house was mostly ant-free, my compost piles had been torched and there were charred spots all over my yard. But the ants were still coming up in different places in my yard. And then it was time for me to go to a PC training in Blantyre. So I took one last look at my ant-infested yard and departed, leaving it in the hands of my neighbors.

While I was away I did a little research on the ants. I discovered that there are many different species of army ants. I think these are red driver ants. Locally they are known as linthumbu. They travel in large colonies consisting of millions of predatory ants, killing almost everything in their path. My Deputy Head Teacher said they have been known to swarm and take down a live chicken. (And these things were in my bedroom!) Once they have wiped out all the food sources in an area, they move on to another spot. After they left my house I noticed a suspicious lack of lizards and spiders, so I was wondering if they chased them away and/or killed them.

When Colii and I arrived at my house in mid-July, it was the first time I had been back since the army ant invasion. I really didn’t know what to expect. I cautiously checked everything out, and the coast appeared clear. There was some kind of ant infestation on the guest mattress, but we Doomed it and they went away. Luckily they weren’t army ants. So we enjoyed our time at my site, as you can see in her blog posts about our vacation in Malawi together. I hoped that would be the last time I would ever see linthumbu. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

1 comment:

  1. From the distance and perspective of the comfy US, I think this might be the most difficult part of being in Malawi, at least for me. Ugh!